Is the United Nations (UN) facing the same fate as the League of Nations?

The United Nations was created in 1945, following the devastation of the Second World War, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. While the General Assembly and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles. The UNSC consists of five permanent members (US, UK, China, Russia, and France) with veto power and 10 non-permanent members. The non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. The current non-permanent members are Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates.

UNSC takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or an act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. The council could also take enforcement measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures range from economic sanctions to international military action.

The recent armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine has the potential to disturb international peace and security. However, the UNSC and General Assembly failed to take any concrete measures to force the conflicting parties into the negotiation table. On 25 February 2022, Russia “vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Friday that would have demanded that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops” (UN News, 26 February 2022). Eleven of the UNSC’s 15 members voted in favor of the mandate, while China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. If a permanent member vetoed a decision, then it stops action on any measure put before the council. The Secretary-General and the general assembly managed to call upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and for de-escalation.

Rusia’s veto power hindered the UNSC council from conducting its central mission which is maintaining international peace and security. Is the veto power making the UN face the same fate as the League of Nations (1914-1920)? The League of Nations was established after World War I. Just like the UN, it was established to maintain international peace by providing a platform to resolve international disputes. However, the League of Nations managed to prevent neither the occupation of Manchuria by Japan, the annexation of Ethiopia by Italy in 1936, nor that of Austria by Hitler in 1938. It failed to prevent World War II.

If the UN does not learn from its predecessor there are some indications that the organization might face the same fate as the League of Nations. There is a need to increase the number of permanent members and find a new strategy to maintain international peace when one of the disputing parties is one of the permanent members of the UNSC with veto power.

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